Cowgirls strive for improvement

Face more quality competition at A&M

After an up-and-down opening weekend, the McNeese State softball team will set out on the road to College Station, Texas, as the Cowgirls will be one of four teams to take part in the Texas A&M Invitational starting today.

The Cowgirls’ (3-3) first game is scheduled start at 12:15 p.m. against Rutgers (3-2). They will play the Scarlet Knights and host TAMU (5-1) twice each over the course of the weekend, and will also play Liberty (1-4) on Saturday morning.

“We’ve got to clean up some things that we need to do a little bit better,” Cowgirls head coach James Landreneau said during his weekly news conference on Monday. “Our bunt defense needs to be a little bit better. Going into the weekend, we know we’re going to face some good teams. There’s no let up in the schedule, it’s going to be constant challenges for us. But I think that’s what makes you mature really fast early in the season.”

The Cowgirls opened up the season splitting their six games at the Cowgirl Classic, winning two of the final three.

Cowgirls senior outfielder Justyce McClain came into the season with high expectations and lived up to them during opening weekend. She went 8-for-19 (.421 batting average), scored seven runs, went 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts and hit her second career home run.

With McClain’s reputation and production, there’s a strong possibility that opposing teams will pitch around her. And that suites Landreneau fine.

“We hope they do (pitch around McClain) to be honest with you,” Landreneau said. “Because we believe we have people behind her that can deliver. But more importantly, Justyce can really run. You put speed on the bases to avoid her, that works in our benefit.”

Rutgers opened its season in Macon, Georgia, in the Mercer Invitational, where they finished by winning their last three games. Rutgers has power with 13 home runs. Four players have at least two home runs — junior Anyssa Iliopoulos leads the team with three home runs, 10 runs batted in, and a .938 slugging percentage. The Scarlet Knights scored 36 runs last weekend, 33 of which came in the three wins.

The Aggies are ranked No. 22 in the country by the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Coaches poll. In the opening weekend, TAMU scored 61 runs, 59 of which came in wins. They never scored fewer than eight runs in any of their five wins. Senior infielder Riley Sartain led the Aggies with three home runs and eight RBIs while junior outfielder Kelbi Fortenberry (.667) is the lone TAMU player to have reached 10 hits.

Liberty started its season south of the border in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The Flames flamed out, winning once, but against quality opponents. They lost to Washington, ranked No. 3 in the country, and Notre Dame, which receiving votes and just outside of the top 25. Liberty received votes.

Rutgers vs McNeese, 12:15 p.m.

Texas A&M vs McNeese, 5:15 p.m.

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McNeese’s starting pitcher Caroline Settle during a non-conference game at Cowgirl Diamond in Lake Charles, La., Tuesday, April 3, 2018. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)

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